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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

* This is the Veterinary Version. *

Nutrition and Disease in Dairy Cattle

By Thomas H. Herdt, DVM, MS, DACVN, DACVIM, Professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health, Michigan State University

Nutrition has a large effect on the occurrence and severity of many diseases of dairy cattle. See table: Diseases or Clinical Signs in Dairy Cattle That May be Related to Dietary Characteristics or Nutritional Deficiencies for brief descriptions of nutritionally associated diseases, disease signs, etc.

Diseases or Clinical Signs in Dairy Cattle That May be Related to Dietary Characteristics or Nutritional Deficiencies

Sign

Possible Nutrient or Dietary Involvement

Abortion (see Abortion in Cattle)

Deficiencies of trace minerals or vitamins, especially selenium, vitamin A, or vitamin E

Anemia (see Anemia)

Possible copper or cobalt deficiency in adult cattle; iron deficiency in young calves (unlikely in adult cattle)

Blindness and night blindness

May be an initial isolated sign of polioencephalomalacia; may be associated with vitamin A deficiency, with or without signs of corneal opacity

Bloat (see Bloat in Ruminants)

Consumption of legume pastures or finely ground, high-starch diets (such as are frequently fed to feedlot cattle) are predisposing; cattle not acclimated to these diets are particularly susceptible

CNS signs

Incoordination, blindness, nystagmus, thrashing, and opisthotonos may be associated with polioencephalomalacia; high-starch diets with microbial inactivation of thiamine and high-sulfur diets such as those associated with heavy feeding of distiller’s grains and solubles

Congenital defects

Deficiencies of vitamin A, manganese, or copper

Convulsions

Sign of vitamin A deficiency, particularly if they occur intermittently interspersed with periods of normal activity in growing calves; should be differentiated from nervous coccidiosis

Cystic ovaries (see Cystic Ovary Disease)

Energy insufficiency and associated subclinical ketosis in early lactation are predisposing; vitamin E and selenium deficiency speculated to contribute

Diarrhea

Numerous dietary factors, including abrupt changes in diet, especially those associated with increases in dietary nonfiber carbohydrates and dietary rumen fermentability; lush rapidly growing pasture and increased dietary protein or salt concentrations

Both metabolic and nutritional causes; feeding should be to prevent ketosis and stimulate high dry-matter intakes; both pre- and postpartum diets are important in management

Dyspnea

Atypical interstitial pneumonia associated with movement of cattle from poor pasture to lush pasture; associated with ruminal conversion of tryptophan to 3-methyl indole

Fatty liver (see Fatty Liver Disease of Cattle)

Overfattening in late lactation or during the dry period accompanied by poor feed intake in late gestation and early lactation

Hypomagnesemic tetany (see Hypomagnesemic Tetany in Cattle and Sheep)

Functional and absolute magnesium deficiency; risk increases with consumption of lush pasture grasses, especially with high potassium concentrations

Inappetence (off feed)

Many nutritional deficiencies (protein, mineral, vitamin) eventually result in reduced feed intake

Incoordination

Blind staggers associated with chronic selenium intoxication; demyelinization associated with copper deficiency

Infertility

Energy is the most clearly associated nutrient; insufficiencies of carotene or manganese may affect ovarian function

Ketosis (see Ketosis in Cattle)

Excessive lipid mobilization and insufficient gluconeogenesis; overfattening in late gestation and insufficient feed intake in early lactation are the primary nutritional influences

Laminitis (see Laminitis in Cattle)

Chronic or acute laminitis and their sequelae are thought to result from diets with high concentrations of nonfiber carbohydrates

Milk fever (parturient paresis, see Parturient Paresis in Cows)

Caused by failure of calcium homeostasis rather than dietary calcium deficiency; control by feeding low-calcium diets or acidifying diets prepartum

Pica and dirt eating

Common causes are not well determined; sodium deficiency, potentially phosphorus deficiency, low-fiber diets implicated

Polioencephalomalacia (see Polioencephalomalacia)

Associated with either ruminal destruction of thiamine or with ruminal production of hydrogen sulfide associated with high-sulfur diets; more common in feedlot than dairy cattle

Retained fetal membranes (see Retained Fetal Membranes in Large Animals)

Deficiencies of selenium, vitamin A, or vitamin E, but adding these nutrients to adequate diets will not reduce incidence; metabolic problems associated with prepartum negative energy balance may also be predisposing

Rickets and osteomalacia (see Rickets)

Insufficient calcium, phosphorus, or vitamin D consumption

Rumen acidosis, acute clinical

Usually associated with major errors or inconsistencies in feed delivery in which high starch intake occurs in cattle unaccustomed to such diets; associated with formation of lactic acid in the rumen with severe drops in rumen pH

Rumen acidosis, chronic subclinical (see Subacute Ruminal Acidosis)

Associated with lactation diets with high nonfiber carbohydrate concentrations and low fiber concentrations; also associated with high rumen concentrations of volatile fatty acids and rumen pH values ≤5.2

Skin problems

Problems such as dull, brittle hair coats, hypotrichia, easily depilated hair, hyperkeratosis, thin skin, and poor healing may be associated with nutritional problems; deficiencies of vitamin A and zinc, generalized protein-calorie malnutrition

Sudden death

Deficiencies of vitamins A or E, selenium, or copper

Suppressed immunity

Generalized immunosuppression, including both cellular and humoral immunity, may occur due to malnutrition; specific nutrient deficiencies include vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, copper, and selenium; also generalized protein-calorie malnutrition

Toxicities

Many toxicities associated with feedborne toxicants; including nitrates, cyanide, many mycotoxins, toxic plants

Urolithiasis (see Urolithiasis in Large Animals)

Diets with high phosphorus and low fiber concentrations

Wasting and failure to thrive

Signs of many nutritional deficiencies, as well as of chronic diseases such as internal parasitism; cobalt deficiency is a well-documented cause of ill thrift in cattle; protein-calorie malnutrition should always be evaluated

White muscle disease (see Nutritional Myodegeneration)

Dietary deficiency of selenium or vitamin E

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* This is the Veterinary Version. *